Regularly eating nuts as part of a healthy diet offers many benefits, and recent research shows that a lower risk of heart disease could be among them.

Heart disease is among the top 5 causes of death in Canada, and has many causes that are considered to be preventable. Heart & Stroke Canada estimates that as much as 80% of premature heart disease and strokes can be prevented by not smoking, keeping active and eating a healthy diet.

In the past when all high-fat foods were labelled as a dietary no-no, nuts would not have been considered part of a healthy diet, but recent research has refined our understanding of how fats can contribute to heart health, and nuts are now considered “must have” items.

Investigation of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet led to a closer look at the role of nuts, which are plentiful in this style of eating . In the February 2017 edition of the scientific journal Current Pharmaceutical Design, the authors reviewed 50 years of research on the impact of the dietary intake of nuts on the development of heart disease or contributing risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and found that regular intake of nuts was associated with lower risks for all three .

That’s great news, but why does it happen?

In a word: antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that help to reverse certain kinds of DNA damage and inflammation in our cells. Foods that are high in antioxidant nutrients, like nuts , appear to have heart-protecting effects.

If you’re not used to including nuts in your diet, it’s easy to do. Nuts make delicious, portable snacks that keep well in areas that lack refrigeration. They are easy to add to salads, and can be incorporated into baking–carrot cake and banana muffins often feature walnuts, as examples. Crushed nuts can be used in place of breadcrumbs when encrusting meats, and added as a topping to yogurt. With a little imagination, nuts can become part of any meal!

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